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18 November 2007

A day in the life of an Indian

Whether it is Mahasweta Devi speaking up for Nandigram or Khushwant Singh speaking up for poor- Is it only the octonogerians to be the voice and conscience of the country?

Other than the journalists who are "reporting facts" in such stories and excluding the blog world (which the real world at least in India does not care much), this country today faces an acute shortage of respected, highly regarded public figures (key word is public figures) leading thoughts on topics of nation building in this country for the next five years or decade?

In his column, Khushwant Singh states,

....The day India’s sensex crossed the 20,000 mark and Mukesh Ambani was declared the richest man in the world, 20,000 men and women from central India arrived on foot from Gwalior to Delhi to protest that they had not enough to eat once a day...

and then goes on to state,

...Take a look at any of the prosperous democracies — South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, United States — in none of them is there as much poverty or so much concentration of wealth. It is rare to find homes of even the well-to-do which have servants. They cook their own food and clean their own toilets. Most working class people enjoy creature comforts, many drive their own cars. That is why there is less resentment based on class differences, less unrest, less corruption, less violence....

I read and wonder, How much more sense does one need to make before being heard?

When I first started writing on topics to do with certain concepts (not on any social or economic issues- but the advice and learning is universal), the person I sought feedback and guidance, an elder, a wise teacher, looked at me in the eye and said, You are not a journalist. Don't write like one. This was a some time ago, and I really did not understand it at that moment. But my own learning was-basically go beyond mere reporting of facts.

So the journalists who report Godhra and Nandigram have also dutifully reported to the public that India’s leading business man, Mukesh Ambani is buying a jet for his wife for her birthday.

...The 27-storey home -- for a family of six -- with a helipad, health club and six floors for car parking and 600 staff, has awed India's rich. (emphasis is mine- I thought the adjective "awed" is used in context of God, a sunrise, something that generates respect, fear and such emotions that brings you to your knees/ genuflect?)

Ambani, who owns the country's biggest private company, Reliance Industries Ltd, gifted the $60 million Airbus plane to wife Neeta on her 44th birthday on Thursday, says a daily.

The jet is custom-fitted with an office and a cabin with game consoles, music systems, satellite television and wireless communication, the report said.

It also has a master bedroom, a bathroom with a range of showers and a bar with mood lighting....

It goes on to confirm that no official confirmed the story.

Now here is my take on it. In a world that is globalised, Mukesh Ambani is a global businessman and moving with the likes of the fortune 500 richest and the powerful & famous, so a certain "standard" has to be maintained. Then he is well within his rights as a public and private persona to buy anything he likes or his wife does. Then again, this is India.Which means for a large part whether you are Kasturba Gandhi or Sadhanatai Amte or neighbour Sharmaji ki bahu, you make (take?) your life partners dreams as yours- so his Dharampatni has married him, at least to my knowledge, with no re-course to a pre-nup in her possession and she actively contributes to both his personal wealth and to make a whole bunch of shareholders too- who are smaller fry citizens- wealthy. Some of who while they may/may not afford a jet can definitely buy a luxury house or car.

[ I hear almost too often for my comfort-- You never bought Reliance shares? Why? What a stupid fool you are! Label “What a Loser” phir ek baar lag gaya!

Got it. Got it. Can we move on please. ]

Hence, the lady should enjoy too for her role in the story of personal and public trust. Also I used to avidly watch Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on TV and enjoy it. Which self-respecting Libran does not like luxury?

But I know if it was me getting a private jet, I may have said (I cannot confirm this as a definite, as the idea of me getting a luxury private jet is so ludicrous) Honey, if you don’t mind, can I exchange it for an hospital? I'd like one like Shankar Netralaya. And, as money is not an issue, can I make that two, I'd like one hospital in both places, Maharashtra and Gujarat. I can always use your jet, can’t I? i.e to fly between the two places.

I may even just have got greedy and asked for all three!

In my day-dream, my rich-as-mukesh ambani imaginary husband (surly kanjoos fella who made his millions by being that way and socially concious too- i.e a description of my imaginary hubby, not MA) retorts, you can't get all three, choose any one and you just got a helicopter last month for our anniversary- why can't you use that? Don't you know I am saving to build that x, y, z. I was buying a jet just cos the kids thought it was a great idea. I can always lease one more. To use when I go meet that PM of that wonderful nation.

If I sufficiently wake myself from my day-dream I almost also kick myself for not buying those shares, in which case I could have had enough net worth to have that hospital done all by myself and not depend on an hubby dear and his “birthday gift”. Life full of regrets.

In the meantime, regardless of what I think, dream or write, people starve and people splurge. Within hearing distance of each other.

Maybe this is a classic example of definition of a happy marriage given in a joke- when one is the blind and the other deaf. So we have India as a country where the happiness index is high. Kyo nahin. Kisi ko sunai nahin deta , kisi ko dikhai nahi deta. Sab khush, esp. the great Indian middle class. The poor have resorted to violence and the rich have enough to buy security. The middle class common man is the one blasted out in a bomb blast or ambushed by bandits while driving on the road to Shirdi- where he was going to thank God for giving him a new flat or a new car, as the case may be. Such a high price for simple pleasures, for being blissfully unaware, for refusal to see or listen.

That is why when I read/listen to such stories in the news, the pledge we learnt in school echoes in my head and I want to shut my ears and say like they say it in Hindi movies: "Nahin.... chale jaao, door ho jaao mere nazaro (kaano) se.

In school- Do the students still have it/recite it? Pledge. It went, India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters.

That is why it is difficult to reconcile the lifestyle of the rich and famous in a country where even one person has gone to sleep hungry at night. 20,000 of them only from one region who marched to Delhi.

Can we hope for some soup kitchen equivalent in Mumbai at least? As a community initiative like the langar in a gurudwara. Not as an economic or social development solution or option. But do read this . And this too.

That is me. Dreamer.

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